Chicago; Early 1920s
A BIG sprawling city jammed against the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. The Chicago River cuts through it like a giant crank, the handle entering the lake. The river bends sharply around the Loop's encircling quadrangle of elevate train lines, flowing down through the stockyards. South of the Loop, bounded on the west by the yards and on the east by the lake is Chicago's Black district. This was where Jazz was first heard when it came from the South:
". . . have you heard Emanual Perez's Creole Band? Have you heard this wonderful Jazz music that the people of Chicago are wild about?"
That's what the city's largest Black newspaper, the Defender said when it arrived. From here it seeped into the white districts of Chicago, spreading eastward and westward over the country like a slowly opening fan.
There were Chicago musicians in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings when it went into the Friar's Inn, but the bulk of the personnel was from its name city. Chicago musicians hadn't arrived at anything like their music, though they were coming close, what with Muggsy and his crowd. In those acoustical days, string bass did not record, but when the band went out to the old Gennett Studio in Richmond, Indiana, Steve Brown slapped the bass anyway, so that they could have a full rhythm section. Years later, on electrical re-recordings, the percussion emerged, plunking away like the ghost of the doghouse.
Legends have clung to Rappolo, as they have to Bix. Probably the best of them are true. How he leaned against the telephone pole, playing clarinet against the weird harmonics of the singing wires.
Bix and the Wolverines were younger that the Rhythm Kings. They came to the Friar's Inn to listen and learn, and to wait long hours until, late at night when the regular members of the band were tired, they would be permitted to sit in with the orchestra to give a member a few moments' relief.
But 35th and Calumet was the center of the universe. The words aren't Latin but to a lot of Jazzmen they mean alma mater. Louis Armstrong, doubling at the Sunset and the Vendome. Little Louis, big Louis. Little cornet, then shiny trumpet. Oliver. Keppard. And the long procession of New Orleans clarinets: Baquet, Bechet, Simeon, Dodds, Noone.
Diagonally across the street from the Sunset, Joe Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators played at the Plantation Café. Joe sends word to Louis:
"Close those windows or I'll blow you off 35th Street!"
Louis loved the old man, (who didn't? who wouldn't?) but he kept the windows open, swinging around and away from the beat.
From Pontchartrain to Schiller's Café; from the Friars' Inn to White City, Jazz was what you made it. Chicago made it very good. DAMN GOOD!!